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15 Best Tips for How to Develop Leadership Presence

Building key leadership skills are essential to developing a strong leadership presence.

Whether you are striving for a leadership position or already a seasoned senior executive, developing a strong leadership presence is key to becoming a successful leader.

What is leadership presence?

Leadership presence is one of the most essential traits of great leaders with top leadership skills. In simple terms, leadership presence is the concept that your demeanor and actions lead others to have a positive, trustworthy impression of your guidance, judgement, and management.

Although leadership presence can strengthen over time through experience, the most effective way to build better leadership qualities and a strong presence is to first understand the components of effective leadership.

Key elements of leadership presence

Leadership presence isn’t rocket science, but it does require a heavy dose of self-awareness which, for some, can be hard work.  The most quintessential elements of leadership are centered around self-awareness and are also the foundation for building a strong executive presence. 

  • Authenticity – practicing transparent behavior builds better relationships, inspires teams, and sets the stage to achieve organizational goals.
  • Confidence – confident leaders tackle difficult issues, are decisive and command attention. Building and maintaining confidence in yourself is a standard for any influential leader.
  • Connection – collaborating with your team and encouraging input creates a culture of trust and makes others feel valued.
  • Emotional Intelligence – the ability to stay calm under pressure and self-regulate your own emotions while simultaneously motivating your team can feel like an elusive quality.  Many great leaders cite emotional intelligence as being one of the toughest, yet most critical, leadership qualities to develop.
  • Communication – no matter your leadership style, effective communication is key to the success of any leadership role. Knowing your communication style is important, but having the awareness to know if it is effective with your team members is crucial.

The importance of leadership presence

Having a strong leadership presence stretches far beyond just being intelligent. A good leader can have solid technical skills and copious amounts of knowledge, but if they can’t command respect or create a culture of trust, their team may struggle to achieve success.

Making conscious efforts to become more self-aware of your own leadership presence helps the growth of your organization, your team, and your overall career.

Building a strong leadership presence brings order to disruptive environments, engages team members, and creates a culture of ownership – laying a path to reach the organization’s goals. Sharpening your executive presence skills also:

  • Increases team productivity
  • Builds trust
  • Cultivates a culture of ownership and pride
  • Inspires others
  • Grows your career

The best ways to develop leadership strong presence

Even the best leaders and senior executives can benefit from evaluating their own executive presence skills.  The list below not only provides some of the best ways to develop leadership presence, but also takes into consideration those senior leaders who may want to take their leadership qualities to a deeper level.

1. Build your self-awareness

Understanding how your own personality traits, habits and abilities show up in your leadership role or in the workplace is important.  When you know who you are and what you want to accomplish, it becomes easier to seek out and recognize the value of other’s opinions and input.  The greater your self-awareness, the greater the opportunity to leverage your strengths. Building self-awareness does require an introspective process but there are effective ways to achieve this valuable self-insight.  Simple things like asking for feedback or taking a strengths assessment can be good first steps towards gaining more awareness. Or take it to a deeper level by working with a professional coach

2. Know your core values

As a leader, you dedicate time and effort to polishing your core competencies. But what about your core values? Core values resonate with who you are and are based on things like your past experiences, your habits and even the make up of your brain. Your values guide and inform your decisions as well as your behaviors.  And when you are in a leadership role, your values also permeate through to your team members and the overall organization. These values allow you to inspire others, motivate teams, and set the tone for celebrating success as well as navigating defeat. Spend time to reflect on or identify your core values and think about how they show up in the workplace.

3. Watch your body language

Although unspoken, body language is an important factor in having great communication skills. It is a powerful form of nonverbal communication that can set an emotional tone and instantly impact atmospheres.  Most people express and interpret these non-verbal cues subconsciously, leaving little time to adjust.  In fact, most people’s perception is noted within the first seven seconds of meeting, with some research suggesting that a tenth of a second is all it takes for first impressions to be formed. Things like good posture and maintaining appropriate eye contact help to build trust.  Pay close attention to your facial expressions and focus on projecting positive energy. Good body language exudes confidence and sends a message that you are comfortable in your own skin.

4. Be authentic

If you are focused on building trust and loyalty with your team members, adopting an authentic leadership style can be an effective way to achieve such a goal. Being an authentic leader focuses on building genuine relationships where trust is a key component. It involves a level of transparency where good leaders admit when they are wrong and honestly communicate their expectations of team members.

5. Practice active listening

The key difference between good listeners and great listeners is their ability to actively listen.  In fact, some senior executives agree that active listening is the most important skill in their portfolio of leadership qualities. Active listening goes beyond hearing what the other person is saying and seeks to understand their perspective. Sharpening this good communication skill can lead to increased employee engagement and promote a company culture of inclusion and respect, where sharing ideas is welcomed and appreciated.

6. Establish credibility

It is crucial that your direct reports, as well as the entire organization, view you as a credible leader. The key components of credibility include traits such as being trustworthy, transparent, and honest. Business leaders and those who want to be seen as subject matter experts should also focus on building credibility by staying up to date with changes in their field.  Delivering relevant, sound data and information back to your team members creates value and a sense of reliability.

7. Value your appearance

Much like body language, appearances count heavily in first impressions as well as continued perceptions. In and out of the business world, people judge appearances and make determinations on traits such as competence, reliability, work ethic, trustworthiness, and intelligence. There are easy ways to show you value your appearance without touting designer clothing in every meeting. Simple things like looking polished and well-groomed show you value not only your appearance but also your health.

8. Engage in professional development opportunities

Attending conferences or courses that offer leadership presence training can provide valuable information as well as an opportunity for networking and exercising social skills. If you prefer reading, there are some outstanding books available as well.  In her book, Executive Presence 2.0, author Sylvia Ann Hewlett shares valuable tips for those looking to grow leadership qualities in a post-pandemic and increasingly diverse world. For another perspective, Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern of the Ariel Group, apply the lessons and expertise they learned as performing artists in their book Leadership Presence.

9. Incorporate a coaching leadership style

Cultivating a strong leadership presence requires connection and the ability to motivate others. Utilizing a coaching leadership style is a great way to build a culture of high performance while establishing genuine professional relationships. It involves recognizing each team member’s own unique strengths, weaknesses, and motivations to help them improve in a way that is most effective.

10. Strengthen your emotional intelligence

Technical skills are important, but they will only carry you so far. A stronger leadership presence requires the highest levels of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is your ability to manage your own responses and emotions as well as influence or manage the responses and emotions of others.  Emotionally intelligent leaders empathize with others and can successfully navigate conflict management, demonstrating leadership qualities of highly effective leaders. Building emotional intelligence requires a healthy dose of self-awareness, an empathetic style, and the ability to self-regulate.  These skills can be improved by utilizing methods such as journaling, obtaining feedback through leadership assessments and even taking courses.

11. Connect with storytelling

Whether you are at a public speaking event addressing large groups or communicating great ideas in a weekly team meeting, storytelling is an effective and powerful way to establish connection. Using a compelling story can help to build credibility for yourself as well as new ideas while inspiring energy levels and motivating team members.  It can help to create a clear vision for your goals and provide a relevant connection between employees and the company’s success.

12. Observe other leaders

New leaders as well as the seasoned executive can always learn something from another influential leader.  Part of building a stronger leadership presence is engaging with your own growth mindset and embracing the thought process that learning is continuous. Keep an open mind and regularly network with leaders across all industries to expand your perspective and gain new ideas.

13. Sharpen your mental fitness

Your personal power is rooted in your mental fitness. Recognizing the role of self-care in good leadership and maintaining your overall well-being is an important factor in a positive leadership presence.  Showing up in the workplace as your best self requires you to address yourself and your well-being as a whole person, not just your professional title. Some great ideas for simple self-care activities include journaling, developing a sleep routine and incorporating more movement into your day.

14. Seek feedback

Research of over 50,000 executives finds that leaders who ranked at the top 10% of asking for feedback were also rated, on average, at the 86th percentile for overall leadership effectiveness. There are many ways to ask colleagues or direct reports for feedback, anonymously or non-anonymously. Consider using a leadership assessment tool such as a 360 to gain new perspectives and knowledge about how others view you.

15. Engage with a mentor

A hallmark of true leadership is the ability to learn – from others, from experiences, and from trusted resources.  Most effective leaders can also point to a role model or mentor who helped to shape their early days and perhaps provided guidance well into their career.  The role of a mentor goes well beyond helping to build business acumen.  When you are working towards developing a strong leadership presence, a mentor can serve as a guide and a valuable source of wisdom as you grow your confidence and self-awareness.

Reaching your full potential as a successful leader

Consistency is key in a leadership role. Stay the course and focus on actionable ways to grow your authenticity. Embrace a growth mindset and accept that there will always be an important trait here and there to develop further.

Take advantage of new opportunities to practice your leadership skills and strengthen your leadership presence and get started with some of the great ideas above!

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